Who Will Keep the Light On?

Hudson Athens LighthouseIt was the radio commercial that planted Motel 6’s “We’ll keep the light on for you,” in your brain. The frequency and repetition of that phrase, along with a well-crafted and ever changing script always kept you wondering what Tom Bodett was going to tell you next, that you already didn’t know about this motel chain.

Lighthouses

Long before there were wireless communications at sea, the lighthouse was the way sailors kept their ships on course and away from danger.

Lighthouse keepers kept these sentinel beacons operational through the darkness and all kinds of weather. Lighthouses, those keepers thought, were never going away.

And they haven’t.

But with lighthouse keepers, today’s technology has basically eliminated the need for them.

Radio Stations

Radio stations are also not going away, but the need for radio personalities, for staffing of any kind on weekends, nights and holidays, has.

Radio stations and lighthouses are both communication centers people depend on. Often for their life.

Bob Christy recently wrote about “Real Life in the Fire Zone…” about his own personal experience during the California wildfires near his home in Southern California. He told of the incredible radio coverage provided by two Los Angeles radio stations, KFI AM640 and KNX AM1070. Due to the fires, they had no wired communication in their home. Bob said he dug out an old boom box, loaded it up with batteries and tuned in the AM radio news and news/talk stations for updates about the fires.

Like a lot of us Boomers and members of the Greatest Generation, Bob grew up on AM radio. But I wondered if many who might have benefitted from the coverage even knew about those AM radio stations or if they even had any type of OTA radio in their home.

Hudson-Athens Lighthouse Preservation Society

My older brother is active in the Hudson-Athens Lighthouse Preservation Society. He’s also a photographer and in addition to working as a volunteer at the HALPS, he travels frequently around the world seeing and photographing lighthouses.

The annual season for touring Hudson-Athens Lighthouse concluded this fall. The lighthouse is located in the middle of the Hudson River between Hudson, New York and Athens, New York. The Coast Guard has an automated LED light on the lighthouse that is still used by ships to navigate that part of the Hudson River but no person physically is needed to man the light. In fact, no person has been needed for years due to technology.

This historic lighthouse, like almost all lighthouses around the world, are maintained by local volunteers that love and care for these critical communication centers of the past.

I wondered if one day, something similar might be the case for some of America’s heritage radio stations, maintained as museum pieces, as another part of communications history.

Amazon

I often hear radio people say things like “Radio will never go away.” I think lighthouse keepers probably said that sort of thing once too. The navigational beacons remain, but the nature of what used to be called a lighthouse, does not. All that’s needed today is an automated LED beacon mounted on any kind of tall structure.

At an all-hands meeting in November, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos was asked by an employee about the future of the company, to which Bezos stunned his people by responding, “Amazon is not too big to fail, in fact, I predict one day Amazon will fail.

If such a thing could happen to the world’s biggest online retailer, what makes us think it would never happen in our industry?

Prolonging Amazon’s Demise

Bezos said, the key to prolonging the demise of Amazon was to “obsess over customers and to avoid looking inward, worrying about itself. If we start to focus on ourselves, instead of on our customers, that will be the beginning of the end.”

I remember when one of the radio station clusters I managed was taken over by one of the big C companies and the company leader told us that we should be focused on making money for the company. It was 180-degrees from the kind of radio I was raised on, where if you took care of your employees, your listeners and your advertisers, the company would get their reward in the end from doing those other three things right.

Where Will They Come From?

Sometimes when we look at another industry or occupation, it gives us insight into the future of our own specialty.

In America, the last officially manned lighthouse was the Boston Light. The United States Coast Guard manned it until 1998. During the last twenty years, volunteers have maintained the light and given tours.

What these volunteer groups are now finding is that with each passing year, fewer and fewer people are doing more and more of the work. New volunteers are increasingly harder to find and often depart quickly when they learn of all the work needed to keep these facilities operational.

And sadly, some of these lighthouses may soon be closing their doors for good due to lack of interest.

It Can Happen Here

There are lessons to be learned from both the story of lighthouses and Amazon.

Will the leaders of radio take a Jeff Bezos approach to the radio industry’s future or end up like lighthouse keepers?

21 Comments

Filed under Education, Mentor, Radio, Sales

21 responses to “Who Will Keep the Light On?

  1. I wish I could predict what the industry will look like 25 years from now. But, you may have “nailed it,” Dick. I trust we won’t be around to see that.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Gregg Cassidy

    You nailed it, now we have to find the solution. Where have all the personalities of radio gone. Youtube, blogs and podcasting. Gas stations with mechanics cost to much money to operate. Gas stations with drinks and snacks made more money. Service stations had to reinvent themselves to survive. Your blog is replacing the need for Broadcasting Magazine, Radio and Records and even a part of Joel Denver’s All access. I’m 64, my son is 38, his kids are 9 and 7. I grew up with many radio in my life, table kitchen radio, clock radio, car radio, stereo system. My son Scott had a stereo and a car radio, his kids a car radio. Last night we drove around town looking at pretty Christmas lights, one of the houses had the lights linked to music that you could only hear by tuning to 101.5. Let me quote my 9 year old grandson. ” He said if the neighbors across the street wanted to hear the music they had to get in their car to hear the music”. His mom said no, they could hear it on a radio in the house. His response was, really. Today I only have one radio in my house, my son and his kids have no traditional radios. Technology is evolving away from the original wireless; radio. Again Dick you nailed it. Awesome read.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. TB Motel 6 was engaging radio. Turned the company around. With Pandora or Podcast curation is key. You can’t automate a story for TV or movies. Must have presentation and great acting. The interlocutor (vaudeville m.c.) kept the show going. Lighthouses shine but don’t speak. We do. Hello, C Q. Thank you, Professor T. Live & Local can still win.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Scott Cason

    For Radio Stations that do not establish they are there as an information service, as well as entertainment, to the coverage area, it’s probably already to late. If all they are is a jukebox, people don’t think of them during times of crisis like the wildfires or severe weather. I got into a discussion with the programming department at a group of stations in Louisville about 15 years ago. They were going through hoops trying to get school closings on the air. Making a big deal about it. I asked the simple question of “Why?”. It was like taking a baseball bat to a hornets nest. When they finished their spiel I said “People don’t tune into our radio station to find out what schools are closed. The tune into WHAS.” I continued, “We abdicated being an information station long ago when we eliminated our TOH news and news departments at the behest of our consultants. People listen to us for entertainment, they don’t see us as a news and information outlet anymore.” That was like kicking the hornets nest after whacking it with the bat. Needless to say, I wasn’t employed there much longer.

    It’s what I’m doing to my radio station in Indiana. I’ve gone back and added top of the hour news along with news from Kentucky News Network and Network Indiana alternating at the bottom of the hour to start rebuilding in our listeners minds that we are not only there for when times are good, but also for when it hits the fan, we are the place to turn. The next step is to soon add coverage of local events. Things like city council meetings and the like. My direct competitors have a smattering of news during morning drive and that’s it. I’ve got at least two news casts an hour outside those times.

    You’ve got to prove your value to your community, and playing 50 minutes of music an hour isn’t it anymore when the average consumer has a smart phone they can stream the world with. Broadcasters have got to reestablish brand loyalty with listeners.

    Liked by 2 people

    • You are what you do 24/7 Scott. I quite agree with you.

      I knew when I started this blog 5-years ago that if I was going to develop a habit in people of reading it, that I would need to be publishing on a weekly schedule that they could depend on.

      Keep us posted on your progress and thanks for stopping by the blog and adding to the discussion.
      -DT

      Liked by 1 person

  5. The mid 90’s changed the way many industries operated (including radio). Radio will continue to evolve. Some stations will choose to run syndicated other will run live programming. The fact is both will continue to have listeners. When I poll my listeners and ask them what are their top three favorite morning shows in our market, they usually say us, but a syndicated show shows up in that survey. The bottom line, if content is compelling the listener doesn’t care if it is local or syndicated. On the severe weather issue, some stations will staff in a crisis, others won’t. Listeners will seek information until they find it (such as the listener in your article). No one knows the future. With the rapid advance of technology radio, streaming, podcasting, video viewing will be quite different 25 years from now.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Kevin Fodor

    I would agree with Damon here. AM and FM is a method of transmission to me…nothing more. Most technically minded stations are streaming their signals (even small market broadcasters in my area do it). Some people say, “you can’t even find a radio in stores anymore”, and that’s not true, either. I walked into the CVS pharmacy near me the other day and found one or two available. I see them in Walmart, too. I bought a crank powered AM/FM camping radio from the American Red Cross and keep it in my camping bag. I agree some day, we may NOT be on AM and FM. But, I feel differently about the future of streaming radio. Will it all be “live”? Probably not. Heck, it’s not now. It doesn’t all need to be. What it needs to be is local. That’s the most important connection…

    Liked by 2 people

  7. Great reading as always DT,

    Our industry needs to move away from the concept of ‘radio’ as the platform we want listeners to embrace… instead moving towards our *brands* to hear their favorite content. Radio is becoming just another way to hear information and entertainment.

    If we keep making great, local and relevant content, we’ll still have an audience — but even better they’ll be able to find our great content on more platforms than ever before, and that’s gotta be better than being heard on just AM or FM spectrum.

    Liked by 2 people

  8. Yet another homer hit right out of the yard. A brief example comes from Hurricane Michael when it made landfall at the Florida Panhandle, before moving deep into Georgia in October. When the storm first struck, the I Heart Media radio stations in the portions of the state where it did the most damage aired continuous coverage of the storm, from the moment it made landfall, until it left Georgia. On the other hand, multiple radio and television stations not only left the air they didn’t return to the air for a few days, if at all. This left many residents without valuable information related to the eventual storm recovery. As of this writing, the local weather radio station serving Southwest Georgia, WXK-53 out of Pelham, Ga., still hasn’t returned to the air, as the storm destroyed the entire facility. Having said that, though, the radio stations that do stick around in the years to come must continue to make that local commitment. As always, thanks for posting and writing.

    Like

  9. Todd Hamilton

    Coming from someone who has been in the business almost 38 years, you are spot on again Dick. So many local stations are getting away from the local commitment either because they don’t care or they are resting on their laurels. Automation is so much killing the radio star!

    Liked by 2 people

  10. In 2018–almost 2019—if anyone, anywhere is thinking about entering radio with DJ skills alone, they might want to think again. The training grounds aren’t the all night shifts; they’re YouTube, Instagram, Snapchat, the stand-up stage. The on-air skills and running the board can be taught, there are many other skills needed by today’s on-air talent.

    Liked by 2 people

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